An examination of how the Americans with Disabilities Act came about, 25 years after the legislation passed into law.
The civil rights movements that get the most attention are often those where the most work remains to be done. Rightly so, but there is also something to be said for spending time exploring past successes, not only for the reassurance that comes from a reminder that change can happen, but also for practical insights into how it happens. Significant progress in other parts of the world has been modeled on the civil rights legislation involved with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Davis (Disability Studies and English/Univ. of Illinois, Chicago; The End of Normal: Identity in a Biocultural Era, 2014, etc.) has done the necessary rigorous research—interviews with dozens of legislators, activists, and others involved in the process—and worked all of those accounts into this book, a mix of journalism and historical overview. It traces back to a handful of individuals: Bob Funk, who helped start the Disabled Rights Education Fund; Patrisha Wright, known as “The General” for her leadership style; Arlene Meyerson, “the brains”; and Mary Lou Breslin, who had the financial acumen. Davis spins the story outward from this core group, and many other players enter the narrative. The DREF worked to bring the disparate elements of a still loosely defined group—“the disabled”—together in common cause. The author’s account occasionally veers toward insider baseball; his scholarship on the subject is evident, and at times the narrative is bogged down by it. At the same time, however, there’s a great deal on how a few deeply liberal activists and a few staunchly conservative lawmakers found a way to work together to effect real, lasting change. Now, there’s a minority that could use some support.
Reading this book would be a great first step toward further civil rights progress.